Al Boum Photo, ridden by Paul Townend, gave Irish training great Willie Mullins his first Cheltenham Gold Cup after years of near misses
Cheltenham (United Kingdom) (AFP) - Willie Mullins had waited a long time to emulate his father Paddy and train a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner and at times he thought it would never happen, but on Friday Al Boum Photo delivered at last.
For 62-year-old Mullins – the all-time leading trainer at The Festival with 64 winners – it ended the frustration of filling the runners-up spot six times.
For his jockey Paul Townend – who is likely to be heading to the Irish jockey’s title, although he is locked in a duel with Rachael Blackmore – it was a case of paying back the faith Mullins had placed in him.
The 28-year-old had been hit with a 21-day ban last April when he steered Al Boum Photo wide of the final fence when well clear at the Punchestown Festival.
“It is the one I have really wanted,” said Mullins, whose redoubtable mother Molly came into the ring on what was her 67th successive Festival visit.
Willie Mullins (R) finally landed the Gold Cup
“Racing has been very good to me. I have a fantastic life through it. I thought, if we do not win the Gold Cup, so be it, what will be will be.”
Mullins, whose father Paddy trained the mare Dawn Run to win the Gold Cup in 1986, said his first thoughts had not been for himself.
“The first thing that went through my head was for Paul and how great it was for him to wipe away those memories,” said Mullins.
It was not all sweetness and light for Mullins as one of his runners in the Gold Cup, Invitation Only, suffered a fatal fall – the second fatality of the day after the Irish banker Sir Erec pulled up in the first.
The ups and the downs of the sport were illustrated as Sir Erec’s trainer Joseph O’Brien ended the meeting with the final winner, Early Doors.
Paul Townend was the first person in Willie Mullins's thoughts after he guided Al Boum Photo to victory in the Gold Cup
Bryony Frost had made history in becoming the first woman to ride a Grade One winner at the Festival on Thursday.
Like the London bus story, you wait a while, then two come along, as Blackmore struck.
- ‘A better woman’ -
Blackmore – who had the most rides ever at the meeting for a woman this week – finished top female rider by guiding home 50⁄1 outsider Minella Indo to land the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle.
“I definitely thought he was coming with a right shout. I would like to say thank you to Henry (de Bromhead) who has put such faith in me this week.”
De Bromhead said Blackmore had earned her stripes.
“I am so lucky to have her, she is a brilliant rider.
“What can you say about her but she wins.”
Pentland Hills won the Triumph Hurdle in impressive style but it was marred by the fatal injury to Sir Erec.
There was a muted reaction from the crowd as Nico de Boinville steered Pentland Hills to victory for a seventh win in the race for trainer Nicky Henderson.
De Boinville, who had performed wonders to stay in the saddle after a terrible blunder at the first, was responsible for advising Henderson to run him.
“You never like to win a race with an accident of that sort but it is the reality of racing sadly,” said de Boinville.
“This horse is owned by thousands of people (Owner031) so it will be quite some party!”
Trainer Dan Skelton has made the County Hurdle almost his private property in recent editions, his Ch’tibello, ridden by brother Harry, delivering his third in the last four renewals.
Harry’s fiancee Bridget Andrews had ridden the stable’s winner last year, Mohaayed, and been smothered in kisses after crossing the line by Harry.
This time round it was her turn to do the honours after Mohaayed finished down the field.
“I am getting married at the end of August and I could not be marrying a better woman,” said Skelton.